A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (YA Fantasy)

A Monster Calls  

Patrick Ness (YA Fantasy)

The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.

At thirteen, Conor was too old for monsters. Monsters were for babies and bedwetters and Conor was neither; however, here he was—night after night reliving the same images that made him wake up screaming into the darkness. But one night, another monster came to visit. Not the one from his nightmare, but a different one. One that would tell him three stories and would then require Conor to tell him the fourth. But the fourth wouldn’t be a story. The fourth would be the truth…Conor’s truth. A truth that he’s been avoiding for a very, very long time.

Do NOT judge this book by either its cover or its title! A Monster Calls is not a horror story, but rather an intensely moving and intellectually provocative read that examines death, bullying, and growing isolation. Patrick Ness’s story (inspired by an idea by the late Siobhan Dowd) and Jim Kay’s beautiful and macabre illustrations allow A Monster Calls to leap off the page, reach inside your chest, and put a death grip on your heart. The action and emotions intensify as the story unfolds and reaches the ultimate crescendo when the reader realizes the truth behind the monster and the meaning of Conor’s nightmare. It’s a painful and agonizing revelation and you can’t help but cry out as our young protagonist finally comes to terms with the grim reality he’s been desperately avoiding and denying. It’s a master class in storytelling and a final work that Siobhan Dowd surely would have been immensely proud of.

On one of their encounters, the monster told Conor about the importance of stories: “They can be more important than anything. If they carry the truth.” There are countless stories about how children deal with trauma—especially when it involves a loved one—but Ness’s approach cuts to the very heart of the loneliness, fear, and helplessness they feel and how these feelings manifest themselves into monsters and darkness and voids that suck the very air from your lungs. It’s a dark and empty feeling that’s scary and cold, but Ness reminds us that truth can cut through the darkest of places; that acceptance can be a way out of the deepest abyss; and that forgiveness can open the way to healing and peace.      

Rating: 5/5

* Book cover image attributed to: www.amazon.com

A Virtuous Woman by Kaye Gibbons

A Virtuous Woman

A Virtuous Woman  

Kaye Gibbons (Adult Fiction)

Blinking Jack Ernest Stokes is forty when he marries Ruby Pitt Woodrow.  Jack is twice Ruby’s age, skinny, and homely, but despite his drawbacks, he loves Ruby unconditionally and promises to take care of her.  After suffering a tormented marriage to a brutal drifter, Ruby longs for stability and security and accepts Jack’s proposal of marriage.  Such is the story of two very different people who transcend both economic worth and social status in order to make a marriage work.

Gibbons gives us a simple story about a man and a woman whose devotion for one another is uncomplicated, unwavering, and unbounded.  Jack and Ruby’s love is quiet and kind and both derive a satisfying and greatly needed comfort from their marriage.  A Virtuous Woman is a pleasant read and flows along at a relaxed pace—alternating narration between Jack and Ruby.  Sadly, this book barely breaks the surface and fails to give the reader an opportunity to emotionally bond with either the story or to its characters.  Gibbons succeeds in providing a big-picture view of a bittersweet relationship between two broken people, but the story could have been far richer had Gibbons further fleshed out the complicated feelings and effects associated with infertility, terminal illness, and bereavement.

Jack and Ruby’s unlikely relationship reminds us that love need not be complicated or blind.  Sometimes, just having someone there offering you acceptance, kindness, and peace is enough.

Rating: 3/5

* Book cover image attributed to http://www.amazon.com

 

 

Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall (YA)

Under the Mesquite

Under the Mesquite  

Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Young Adult Fiction)

Lupita knows that her Mami has a secret that she is hiding from her and her seven siblings.  She hears her talking with her comadres in their hushed words and sees their furtive glances.  Something is different.  Something is wrong.  Then Lupita hears the word that Mami keeps tucked behind closed doors…”cancer”.  Suddenly, Lupita has to deal with her mother’s chemo treatments, her best friend’s sudden ridicule, and her upcoming 15th birthday.  Through it all, she has her writing.  For a brief moment, Lupita is able to block out the world and find solace as she pours out her feelings under the sanctuary of her family’s mesquite tree.

McCall gives us inspiration through tragedy as she delivers a compelling story written entirely in free verse.  Although this is a quick read (a slow read is encouraged), the author provides an enormous amount of depth, detail, and emotion by using just a few words proving that less is indeed more.

I enjoyed seeing Lupita go between her homeland of Mexico and her current home in the United States.  McCall’s use of Spanish words throughout the book gives the story a richness that allows us to totally immerse ourselves in Lupita’s culture and world.  These two halves of her life are very different, but somehow fit seamlessly to give us a whole girl who is headstrong, caring, and mature beyond her years.

In the beginning of the story, a mesquite tree unexpectedly grows in the middle of Mami’s prized rose garden.  But over time, this intrusion is a welcomed and comforting presence.  Through pruning, the tree has grown to be quite lovely, but it is not its beauty that strikes Lupita.

“I envy the mesquite

its undaunted spirit, its ability to turn

even a disabling pruning

into an unexpected opportunity

to veer in a different direction,

flourishing more profusely than before”.

It would be wonderful if we were all just a little bit more like the mesquite tree:  growing stronger after being weakened, finding new opportunities through loss, and thriving wherever planted.

Rating: 5/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com